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Graduation 2020

33 new COVID-19 cases reported in Forsyth

Forsyth County has 33 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a report Tuesday from the county’s health department.

The county has now had a total of at least 2,283 cases. Of those cases, 1,367 people have recovered and 25 people have died, which leaves 891 active cases.

Forsyth is one of nine counties in the state where the number of reported COVID-19 cases has rapidly increased. As of Saturday, the county had a rate of 579 infections per 100,000 people. That rate was third highest of the state’s urban counties. Durham County had the highest rate of the urban counties at 811 per 100,000 residents, and Mecklenburg was second with an infection rate of 627 per 100,000 residents.

North Carolina’s rate is 412 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health director, has said that the sharp increase in Forsyth County has been related to more testing, people increasingly moving around since the Phase One reopening and “targeting areas where we are likely to see more positive cases.”

On May 8, Forsyth’s case count was 369. By May 22, it was 894.

As of Saturday, the latest numbers released by local health officials, 19,523 Forsyth residents had been tested for COVID-19. The percentage of lab tests that came back positive was 11.3 percent.

On Tuesday, North Carolina reported 751 new COVID-19 cases. The state has had at least 45,853 reported cases, and 1,154 people have died, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Resources said.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the state’s health department would allocate $35 million in federal funding to local health departments to help in the COVID-19 response. Counties can use the money to support COVID-19 staffing, infection controls, testing and tracing, IT infrastructure and data sharing and other needs, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Forsyth County will receive $1.2 million.

Joshua Swift, the county’s public health director, will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.

City vows to do better after glitchy budget meeting that cut off people wanting to comment on police spending

Some callers said they had a hard time getting through to the Winston-Salem City Council on Monday to comment on the city budget, but Winston-Salem administrators say they’re working to make the system better.

Holding a virtual public hearing, with people participating by calling in on a designated number, city officials said they realized later that some people were getting bumped off the line and had to call in again.

“Unbeknownst to any of us, the call-in system put you on hold for three minutes and then kicked you off,” City Manager Lee Garrity said Tuesday. “There was confusion.”

The council held a public hearing on the 2020-21 budget before passing the budget later in the meeting on Monday.

The big issue on Monday was police spending, with many of the callers who did make it through advocating cuts to police spending. The city meeting started an hour after a protest event on Fifth Street in front of Benton Convention Center, one of many protests that have taken place here since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

As it worked out, some 16 people did get through to leave a comment on the budget, and some who tried again during the separate public comment period also talked about police spending.

Meridith Martin, the strategic initiatives administrator for the city, said the city had set up a phone tree system so that callers could indicate whether they wanted to speak during the budget hearing, the general comment period or during another part of the meeting.

“We know we did experience some technical issues with the system,” she said.

People watching the meeting could see Mayor Allen Joines at times repeatedly asking if there was anyone on the telephone line who wanted to make a comment.

“We know that during some of the silences in the meeting we patched through and they would hang up,” Martin said.

Some people called the city’s help line to report a problem getting through and were encouraged to keep trying, he added.

Jillian Sechrest, who was among the protesters Monday at Benton, told a reporter that she had tried 30 times to connect to the city council meeting so that she could leave a comment on the budget.

Council Member Dan Besse said he heard after the fact that callers were having trouble getting through.

“Their calls kept getting dropped,” Besse said.

“It was frustrating for us. We were sitting there waiting a minute between callers.”

Though most callers wanted less police spending, the city council passed a budget that leaves spending intact at $78 million for police.

Last week, the city’s public safety committee had endorsed a proposal put forward by Council Member James Taylor that would have transferred $1 million from the police budget to various antipoverty efforts, but Taylor modified the proposal on Monday to instead have the city appoint a panel to look at possible spending.

What will happen now is that each of the eight council members will recommend two people for the spending panel, with another two members named by the mayor for a total of 18 members.

The committee will make recommendations on how to spend up to $1 million on community investments intended to help remedy inequality, but the council will have the final say on any spending.

If money does get spent, the city can use any projected salary savings that may have come up during the fiscal year, or money the city gets from the state or federal governments for coronavirus relief.

In addition to community investments, the money can be also used for employee pay adjustments or merit pay increases.

Yadkinville man gets 26 years for robbing Clemmons store and trying to set the clerk and the store on fire.

A Yadkinville man has been sentenced to more than 26 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he and another man robbed a Clemmons convenience store, tied up the clerk in the back of the store, poured diesel fuel on him and tried to burn the building down, escaping with cash and $1,000 worth of tobacco products.

David Curtis Smith, 59, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in October 2019 to robbery, carjacking, use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and arson.

On Thursday, June 11, U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs sentenced Smith to a total of 26 years and seven months in prison for all four charges. He was also ordered to pay $366,989 in restitution. Once he gets out of prison, he will be put on five years of federal supervised release, according to a news release.

Smith and Cody Lee Long, who was 25 when he was arrested, were both initially charged with attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery, first-degree kidnapping, burning a building and larceny of a motor vehicle. The case was eventually transferred to federal court. It was not immediately clear what happened with the initial charges. Long’s case is pending in federal court.

The incident happened on Oct. 20, 2018, at the Stop and Shop Mart in Clemmons.

Sometime after 9:30 p.m., Smith and Lee walked into the store as the clerk was preparing to close.

Smith had a pistol and told the clerk to do what he and Lee wanted, according to court documents.

Smith and Lee took cash and more than $1,000 in tobacco products while holding the clerk at gunpoint. Afterward, they took the clerk into the rear of the store and bound his hands and feet with zip ties.

According to court documents, Smith admitted he doused the clerk in diesel fuel and he and Lee poured fuel in various sections of the store. One of the men lit a paper towel and threw it on the fuel to ignite it.

Smith and Lee locked the security gates at the front of the store, using a chain and padlock.

Having already taken the clerk’s car keys, they stole his 2011 Ford pickup parked outside, federal prosecutors alleged.

The clerk broke free from the zip ties around his legs and got to the front door where he saw the men leaving. He got between the doors and the security gate and yelled for help. The clerk was later taken to a local hospital for minor injuries.

The fire caused about $200,000 damage to the store.

At 2:36 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2018, a state trooper found the Ford pickup on a ramp of Farmington Road toward eastbound Interstate 40. The trooper found the interior of the truck soaked in diesel fuel and marks on the seats that indicated that Smith and Lee had tried to set it on fire.

Investigators with the Forsyth County and Wythe County sheriff’s offices arrested Smith and Lee on Nov. 2, 2018 at a truck stop in Wytheville, Va.